Giant Bomb Review

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Grand Theft Auto IV Review

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Without strong characters or story to rely on, The Ballad of Gay Tony highlights the ways in which open-world games have been refined and improved since the original release of Grand Theft Auto IV.


 Tony Price is in the business of getting into trouble, and business is boomin'.
A year and a half might not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but in the tech-driven world of video games, it's enough to make a once-innovative game feel tired and clunky. Such is the case with The Ballad of Gay Tony, the second episode Rockstar North has released on the Xbox 360 for Grand Theft Auto IV, which continues to rely on that game's rapidly aging framework. But time isn't the only thing working against Gay Tony, as there's also an issue of quality. It's got all of the parts you'd need for the kind of hyperbolic criminal action experience GTA fans have come to expect, but there's a certain carelessness to the execution.

Like The Lost and Damned before it, The Ballad of Gay Tony takes place concurrently with the events of GTAIV, this time focusing on Luis Lopez and his business partner Tony Prince, known better within the criminal community as Gay Tony, though that's far and away the kindest name he's given. Together Lopez and Prince run a pair of high-end nightclubs in Liberty City, but a slumping economy and the maturation of LC's gay community are putting a cramp on Tony's non-stop bacchanalia of coke and pills, and the pair end up owing money to the wrong people. Despite being an ex-con and an unrepentant murderer, Luis is definitely the more reasonable and responsible of the two, and playing as Luis, it's your job to sort things out--and of course, by “sort things out,” I mean rob, blow shit up, and kill a whole mess of dudes.

 Say hello to the moral center of The Ballad of Gay Tony.
This has emerged as one of the bothersome incongruities of the Grand Theft Auto protagonist. Like Niko Bellic and Johnny Klebitz before him, Luis Lopez is portrayed as a criminal who is a bit more insightful and self-aware than his peers, and postures as though he operates by some kind of moral code. Yet virtually every mission involves you doing the savage bidding of crazy and/or stupid characters that Luis ought to know better than to associate with. Even in comparison to Niko and Johnny, Luis comes off as kind of flat, without the thirst for revenge or the importance of brotherhood that, respectively, drove those characters. GTA protagonists are never the most interesting characters in their own games, but the fact that this isn't called The Ballad of Luis Lopez should be telling.

While the story is ostensibly about the dynamic between Tony and Luis, it also weaves in and out of the events of Grand Theft Auto IV, and the game is packed with callbacks and cameos, moreso than Lost and Damned. There are a few gems in there, but there's also a lot of forced coincidence, and at a point, it can be difficult to keep track of the extended cast of GTAIV. The Ballad of Gay Tony loosely revolves around Liberty City's nightclub lifestyle, but there's no specificity to the criminal experience being portrayed here, and it ends up feeling like a weak caricature of a good Grand Theft Auto game. Story threads about Luis' past, his relationship with his mother, and his dodgy reputation as a ladies' man are hinted at but go nowhere, and many of the colorful supporting characters are overly reminiscent of existing GTAIV characters, to the point that they actually introduce Brucie's older (but not bigger) brother Mori, whose amped-up alpha behavior simply doesn't pay the same dividends it did the first time around.

 Luis doesn't seem like the BASE jumping type, and isn't afraid to say as much.
The gameplay in The Ballad of Gay Tony is, well, typical Grand Theft Auto stuff. If you played Grand Theft Auto IV, which is kind of a necessity before you get into Gay Tony, you're already familiar with the peculiarities of how the driving and character movement handle. The firefights tend to necessitate more judicious use of the game's cover mechanics, which feel clunkier than ever, largely because of the progress that has been made with cover mechanics by games like Uncharted 2 since the release of GTAIV. There are a few new activities you can engage in, most notably the addition of a parachute that you can use for BASE jumping, though you can also hit the driving range, engage in drug war firefights with Luis' hood friends, and go dancing in Tony and Luis' nightclubs.

Alongside the digital release of The Ballad of Gay Tony, Rockstar is putting out Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City, which bundles both Gay Tony and The Lost and Damned onto one disc. This seems intended for players wary of or unconvinced by downloadable content, but the real value here is that you can expect market forces to push down the price of the disc much more quickly than its Microsoft-controlled digital counterparts. Considering the standalone nature of both episodes, I suppose it makes as much sense to load up that disc as the GTAIV disc to access the content.

Time and expectations have taken a certain toll on Grand Theft Auto IV, but all that aside, the bottom line for The Ballad of Gay Tony is that it's just not as good as the GTAIV experiences that preceded it. It feels like Rockstar has run out of tricks, and it has got its work cut out for it with whatever comes next for Grand Theft Auto.
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Posted by KaosAngel

Very surprised with this review.  Everyone else I know who owns a 360 says this is a lot of fun and much better than LotD.  
 
Wow, wasn't expected 3 stars from this.

Posted by zombie2011

Wow most other places have been saying the story in this is almost as good as GTA 4's. I was not expecting this, maybe Ryan is just a tough reviewer.

Posted by Scooper

Ryan Davis. A man not afraid to speak his mind. Bravo for that.

Posted by Brunchies

I never expected 3 stars for this addon.

Posted by Walreese55

I'd say I have to disagree. I haven't finished the game yet, so I'll hold off completely disagreeing with Ryan's review. But from what I've played, about 30% through the missions, I'm having a blast. 

Posted by nick69

Surprisingly low. But I wasn't expecting much from this dlc anyways

Posted by ez123

Why don't you follow the mold, Davis? :) 
 

 I'm getting this at some point.

Posted by Tirrandir

Wasn't Ryan kind of not as into GTA4 anyway?  I don't really care, but I would have kind of liked to see Jeff's review after he spent forever going on about how fantastic GTA4 was. 

Posted by TheHBK

Wow, first kind of negative review I have seen for this.  Other places have been given out the 40's and 9's.  But I can see where Ryan is coming from.  GTA is just so hard to go back to right now.  San Andreas feel clunky in comparison to GTA 4 though, but its got this quirky appeal and the expansive world makes it appealing.  Maybe its that there were no memorable characters in GTA IV except for the jamaican and Brucie?  Who I guess is gay now.

Posted by ImperiousRix

Though I agree Luis is by far the weakest GTA IV protagonist, I disagree with pretty much everything else in the review.

Posted by natetodamax

Lower than I expected.

Posted by Kohe321

Well written review Ryan

Edited by DavidSnakes

I couldn't disagree more with every single point of Ryan's.  I maintain that there is no open-world game that even approaches the sophistication of Liberty City and GTA4, even with fairly out-dated graphics.  The physics, sense of realism, radio stations, thousands of well-written lines.... they're still head-and-shoulders above everything else out there.

Posted by zombie2011
@ImperiousRix said:
"

Though I agree Luis is by far the weakest GTA IV protagonist, I disagree with pretty much everything else in the review.

"
I really liked him compared to klebitz, who i really didn't care for. I just like how more upbeat gay tony is compared to the other stories. You start at the top and have fun, instead of working your way there.
Posted by Seppli

I kinda agree. The story is less cohesive, than the original games and the first addons. The character's, while well written, don't get enough screentime. All in all, TBoGT lacks focus. The gunfights definitly are kinda weak in comparison to other, more dedicated 3rd person shooter games. Definitly something Rockstar will have to improve on for GTA V.
 
I disagree in the tech department though. The open world of GTA IV is still second to none. Liberty City feels so alive and is very interactive. The problem is, at this point, I've spent too much time in Liberty City already. Most gamers have. Even the best stuff can grow stale. Which it most certainly did for me.
 
3 stars is harsh. Personally, I'd give it a solid 4 stars. It's GTA IV after all. I agree with most of your critiques though.

Posted by DavidSnakes

Also no mention of the multiplayer, I know already that Ryan and GB hate GTA4's MP, but still it'd be nice to cover all of the new content rather than quickly scribble it down in a closing paragraph

Posted by Creamypies

This was a better game than ODST.

Posted by JoelTGM

Those screenshots and talk of the cover system just reminded of how much I don't want to go back to GTA4.

Posted by Th3_James

Personally i thought TBOGT to be some of the most fun i have had in GTA.

Posted by Kajaah117

Having played just a little over 4 hours of it, I like it even more than The Lost and Damned. It's got that old-school frenetic energy that was missing from the rest of the GTA 4 content. If you were dissapointed with GTA 4 or The Lost and Damned, I'd recommend picking this up immediately.
 
But, I still respect Ryan for having the balls and integrity to speak his mind, without any other outside influence. Good review Ryan.

Posted by Meteora

I wasn't expecting such a low score. Ryan Davis really is a tough customer. =P    

Edited by Seanakin66

I gotta agree, neither of the DLC episodes was anything Earth-shattering and it shows.  Still, it was nice to see plotlines connected and to see the insertion of new activities, but only because I had the $20 to throw at this so casually.  Were money tighter, I'd have had my doubts.
 
ETA: 1) Yes, I've also enjoyed the gameplay so far, 2) I am finding side missions like the drug wars extremely repetitive and unimaginative, i.e. the kind of thing I'd avoid were there no gamerscore to be had, 3) Ryan's review makes total sense in light of his general apathy (not to be confused with antipathy, btw) for the GTA franchise.  About as much sense as his three-star assessment of Brütal Legend, now that I think about it.

Posted by Bigbombomb

Hmm… Well, I'm still going to get it.

Posted by kagekage

wow

Posted by MrBungle

Would have been better if Ryan citied examples of open world games that have overtaken GTA, seeing as it is one of his beefs. I can't think of a single one. Game is great fun and feels fresh, and some gameplay elements now hark back to the fun stuff from GTA's of old.  A solid 4/5 as far as I'm concerned.

Posted by pirate_republic

Hmmm Ryan, 3 stars is too low imo. It's rare that I flat out disagree with a GB review but this is one. 4 stars for me.

Posted by CptBedlam

I gotta agree with Ryan. I started playing TBOGT two days ago, did about half of the story missions and have absolutely no desire to continue. RS really lost me here, weak story and mostly weak characters. I liked TLAD much better. Also TLAD had more to offer when it comes to the soundtrack.

Posted by Light_Bahamut
@Tirrandir said:
" Wasn't Ryan kind of not as into GTA4 anyway?  I don't really care, but I would have kind of liked to see Jeff's review after he spent forever going on about how fantastic GTA4 was.  "
Hell no, Ryan was super into GTAIV last year. Go back and listen to the GotY podcast discussion. He was one of the game's biggest advocates.
Posted by Mechanized

Not surprised with the review to be honest. This series is very stagnant. I can honestly say I am not excited about the prospect of a new GTA game any time soon.

Posted by Walreese55
@creamypies said:
" This was a better game than ODST. "
Definitly. Hell to the yes.
Posted by DrLove

Grumpy Ryan strikes again lol.  

Posted by DrLove

its all good if hes not feeling the game that much but, if you download ALL of the Fallout 3 DL3 its tough to think that rockstar "ran out of tricks" but 5 dlc's for fallout 3 were ok...

Posted by FoxMulder

Wrong about Brutal Legend and now this?  Hmmm..... I still love GB and all, but this is kinda bad.

Posted by Blair

Keep it coming Ryan.
 
The reviews have been fantastic and very informative.

Edited by Milkman

People, just because you disagree with a review doesn't mean its "wrong". There's a difference. I disagree with this review but Ryan isn't wrong. I can see where he's coming from and I'm not going to argue his right to say it.  And saying "THIS SHOULD BE 4 STARS" is just stupid and makes it seem like you just looked at the stars and decided "WHAT IS THIS CRAP?! I HAVE TO MAKE MY OPINION KNOWN OVER THE INTERNET ABOUT THIS MATTER OF BUSINESS!"
 
@FoxMulder said:

" Wrong about Brutal Legend and now this?  Hmmm..... I still love GB and all, but this is kinda bad. "

That's a good example of how not to show your opinion of something.
Edited by CharlesAlanRatliff

Good review by Ryan, but I disagree with a lot of it.
 
I got a kind of San Andreas vibe from a lot of the missions, which was nice after the direction GTA IV took (which I loved). I felt the action set pieces they came up with were really cool. I loved going online in Free Mode as well, where people are always fighting with helicopters and BASE jumping (though that has already run its course for me). Seeing how Luis and some of the other characters that were super minor in the previous games tied into the rest of the GTA IV world was interesting. Drug Wars was super repetitive though, to the point where you pretty much hear the exact same dialogue every mission. It is something I wouldn't have done if not for the achievement.

Posted by DrLove
@DavidSnakes said:
" Also no mention of the multiplayer, I know already that Ryan and GB hate GTA4's MP, but still it'd be nice to cover all of the new content rather than quickly scribble it down in a closing paragraph "
ya i found it really weird that he didnt even bother to mention it at all.  kinda strange.
Posted by itsmadness

I would argue that GTA IV by itself is 3/5 stars, so I think Ryan is probably justified to give that score.

Posted by Death_Burnout

It definitely seems like a throwback...
 
And that is why im interested in getting it, and i HATE standalone DLC, so obviously i have to be interested.

Posted by RsistncE

I'm surprised by this (mostly because the GTA series is a bandwagon game) but I fully agree with Ryan. Happy to see someone else realizes how shitty GTA4's gameplay really was.

Posted by PhatSeeJay

I don't know... I have to disagree with this review... I found the main character to be quite fun and interesting. I got a feeling about a guy who's out of his element and finds a place to belong. 
 
Well I guess I'm a bit biased to this dlc since I find Vice City to be my favorite GTA game and this pack certainly gave me those vibes again.  I found Lost and Damned to be interesting but it was just a biker guy in his element... I've always come to enjoy the GTA games for having a main character that shouldn't be where he is. 
 
Either way I would still recomend this to anyone who owns GTA IV and/or loved Vice City. It's worth the money in my opinion.

Posted by DrLove
@RsistncE said:
" I'm surprised by this (mostly because the GTA series is a bandwagon game) but I fully agree with Ryan. Happy to see someone else realizes how shitty GTA4's gameplay really was. "  
but Ryan realizing how shitty GTA4 gameplay what you really mean is having it as the game of the year 2008 for GB???? lol
Posted by Dany
@Light_Bahamut said:
" @Tirrandir said:
" Wasn't Ryan kind of not as into GTA4 anyway?  I don't really care, but I would have kind of liked to see Jeff's review after he spent forever going on about how fantastic GTA4 was.  "
Hell no, Ryan was super into GTAIV last year. Go back and listen to the GotY podcast discussion. He was one of the game's biggest advocates. "
No, he wasn't. He was stone cold on MGS4 the second the podcast started and started being swayed over.
Posted by KinjiroSSD

I sorta agree with Ryan. Going back to the GTA4, the mechanics feel dated, especially the combat. Having said that, GTA4 is still king of realism and cities.

Posted by AaronAlex

I agree with this review. I felt TLAD was a much stronger episode then this

Posted by RsistncE
@DrLove said:
" @RsistncE said:
" I'm surprised by this (mostly because the GTA series is a bandwagon game) but I fully agree with Ryan. Happy to see someone else realizes how shitty GTA4's gameplay really was. "  
but Ryan realizing how shitty GTA4 gameplay what you really mean is having it as the game of the year 2008 for GB???? lol "
If you listen to the 2008 GotY podcast Jeff literally had to spend most of the podcast convincing everyone why GTA4 was GotY and even by the end of the podcast Brad still didn't really agree on GTA4 being GotY (I personally agreed, thinking MGS4 was the best game that year).
Edited by pbhawks45

Hey look! It's Ryan Davis, Eurogamer/GiantBomb reviewer!
 
You want to talk about uninspired? Look at ODST. Look at Wolfenstein. Look art MUA2. Not this. So far, I've loved it. Just wish I didn't have 3 tests this week.

Posted by DrLove
@RsistncE said:
" @DrLove said:
" @RsistncE said:
" I'm surprised by this (mostly because the GTA series is a bandwagon game) but I fully agree with Ryan. Happy to see someone else realizes how shitty GTA4's gameplay really was. "  
but Ryan realizing how shitty GTA4 gameplay what you really mean is having it as the game of the year 2008 for GB???? lol "
If you listen to the 2008 GotY podcast Jeff literally had to spend most of the podcast convincing everyone why GTA4 was GotY and even by the end of the podcast Brad still didn't really agree on GTA4 being GotY (I personally agreed, thinking MGS4 was the best game that year). "
ok... but you gotta agree there is a big step between 2008 game of the year and "shitty gameplay"
Posted by SlantedRoom

It seems like Ryan just kind of expalined the story and didn't really justify why he gave it a 3. I know he said a few things in the final paragraph, but up until them he was basically just outlining the plot. 
  
It's definitely not the worst review i've read, just not the best Ryan Davis review.. there've been some great ones.. 
 
My personal opinion is 4/5. To sum it up i'd say Gay Tony uses all of the same tricks from GTAIV and it works about 80% of the time.
Edited by DrLove
@pbhawks45 said:

" Hey look! It's Ryan Davis, Eurogamer/GiantBomb reviewer!  You want to talk about uninspired? Look at ODST. Look at Wolfenstein. Look art MUA2. Not this. So far, I've loved it. Just wish I didn't have 3 tests this week. "

+10000 
i dont really know how ODST, wolfenstein, or MUA2 improved alot over what their series had done in the past yet they all got higher scores i think.  i wonder if reviews take into account $ value in their reviews.
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